The Nationals are going to be without Jayson Werth for awhile, likely until sometime in August after a specialist at the Mayo Clinic discovered two small fractures Thursday in his injured left wrist.
That’s not good news for the Nats, who now face at least two more months without their No. 3 hitter and trusted veteran outfielder.
But that doesn’t necessarily make it crippling news. Sure, the Nationals would much rather have Werth than not have him. But they’ve already established their ability to thrive without him. And they do have options to replace him in the short- and long-term.
The absence of Werth from the lineup for prolonged stretches is nothing new for the Nats. He missed three months when he broke the same wrist making a diving catch in 2012. He spent time on the disabled list in 2013 with a strained hamstring. And he battled through a shoulder injury last season, one that eventually required surgery to repair the AC joint.
Werth missed all of spring training and the season’s first week due to that shoulder ailment. Now he’s going to miss another long stretch of time with an injury to the same wrist that has plagued him several times during his career.
The Nationals, though, have shown they can win with Werth sidelined. Lest anyone forget, they won 98 games in 2012 despite that 3-month DL stint, including a 47-34 record when he was out of the lineup. (That’s a .580 winning percentage.)
And they’ve established they can win without him already this season. Since Werth last played May 15, the Nationals have gone 9-2.
So the notion that general manager Mike Rizzo needs to go out and acquire another left fielder to take Werth’s place is a bit misguided. For one thing, Werth isn’t out for the season. He will be coming back, and Rizzo isn’t the type who usually gets pressured into picking up a player to fill in for only 2 1/2 months.
Werth also remains under contract for two more seasons after 2015, owed $21 million in 2016 and again in 2017. He’s not going anywhere.
What of the Nationals’ options to replace Werth until he’s healthy again? They may not be awe-inspiring, but they’re far from a black hole, either. Michael Taylor, Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson have held their own while filling in for Werth and actually have been just as productive at the plate as the man they back up.
Nationals left fielders this season are hitting a collective .210 with a .281 on-base percentage, .307 slugging percentage and .588 OPS. That’s not very good.
Werth, though, sported a .578 OPS at the time of his injury, and even though he had picked up the pace in the final week before getting hurt, he still wasn’t producing up to his career norms.
Take Werth’s stats out of the mix, and the Nationals’ remaining left fielders have been just as productive, even more so in some cases: a .215 batting average, .271 on-base percentage, .329 slugging percentage and .600 OPS. Still below-average, but the guy they had for most of the season’s first six weeks was producing at below-average levels to begin with.
Point is, the Nationals should be able to get away with what they already have. Taylor has sparkled at times, struggled at others. But he’s guaranteed to provide excellent defense, and given the current makeup of the lineup, he’s not really needed to do much at the plate. Moore remains a solid threat against left-handed pitchers, while Robinson continues to be a threat against right-handers.
Besides, it’s too early in the season to make significant trades. They rarely happen at this stage of the game. If, come mid-to-late July, the Nationals still aren’t getting any production out of their left fielders and Werth remains several weeks from returning, they could always try to acquire a stop-gap at the trade deadline.
But that’s a decision that doesn’t need to be made for awhile. Yes, the Nationals will be hurt by the loss of Werth. But based on what we’ve seen over the years, they’re plenty capable of making up for his absence.